Bruce Eckfeldt | Strategic Business Coaching and Scaling a Company to the Inc. 5000 List

Bruce Eckfeldt, the Founder and CEO of Eckfeldt & Associates, is a consultant, coach, author, and speaker. He started his career as an architect and later transitioned to digital product development. He is also an expert in business and operational growth strategy, talent planning, performance coaching, and using Agile/Lean to achieve operational excellence. In 2003, Bruce founded Cyrus Innovation, one of the first Agile/Lean consulting firms, and worked with companies such as Boeing, Kaplan Test Prep, Simon & Schuster, Eze Software, and The New York Times. The company was an Inc. 5000 honoree for five years in a row. 

After more than a decade of developing products and coaching companies to adopt Agile/Lean practices, Bruce sold Cyrus Innovation in 2014 to focus on broader organizational development initiatives. He has served as interim CEO, COO, and other executive roles across different high-tech and professional service companies, leading them through periods of high growth and leadership transition. He has also been a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) since 2007.

Bruce Eckfeldt, the Founder and CEO of Eckfeldt & Associates, joins John Corcoran in this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast to talk about business coaching and strategies for scaling a company to the Inc. 5000 list. They also discuss how to overcome imposter syndrome, the value of structured business frameworks, and challenges in the cannabis and psychedelics industries.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Bruce Eckfeldt’s entrepreneurial ventures as a child
  • How Bruce built a business around Agile/Lean
  • Bruce talks about his company’s listing as an Inc. 5000 business for five consecutive years and its impact on his career
  • How Bruce overcame imposter syndrome and became a certified Scaling Up coach
  • The value of structured business frameworks 
  • Bruce’s podcasts around cannabis and psychedelics — and the challenges experienced in these industries
  • How Bruce supports CEOs through business coaching
  • The peers Bruce acknowledges for their support

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of the show. And for those of you who are new to listening to this program, you can check out the archives, we’ve got some great interviews with past smart CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs of companies ranging from Netflix to Kinkos’, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, and many more. And I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And today’s guest is Bruce Eckfeldt. He is a consultant, coach, author, and speaker. He talks on a range of topics he actually interesting. He started his career as an architect transition to digital product development early in his career, and has had a number of different stops along the way. In 2003, he founded Cyrus Innovations, one of the first Lean/Agile consulting firms worked with companies such as you may have heard a Boeing, Kaplan Test Prep, Simon & Schuster, all kinds of interesting companies like that. It was an Inc 5000 honoree for five years in a row. That is insane. So we’re gonna talk about how that was even possible. That is really, really difficult to do. 

Of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25, where you help b2b businesses get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. And you can learn all about what we do at Bruce, pleasure to have you here. And I love to ask people about how they were as a kid how entrepreneurial they were as a kid last weekend, I took my 12 year old and we had a coffee and doughnut stand outside and his brothers and flag football game and he made $51 There’s not too bad for a couple hours work. I was super proud of him. But for you, you did bubblegum as a kid. That was your entrepreneurial side hustle.

Bruce Eckfeldt 2:16

Yeah, I think my I think my best was, was spent sixth grade I’m gonna kind of stretch my brain a little bit. I realized I could buy bags, big bags of Gumball, bubblegum, 100 pieces of bubblegum for 99 cents, and I could turn around and sell it for a nickel. And I made I made a killing for probably probably six weeks, maybe eight weeks until I got called into the principal’s office. And the janitors were finding volumes of gum stuck under the desks of the sixth grade classrooms. So they they gave me a deal I could keep selling but I had to like clean all the desks with a scraper every afternoon. And so I decided to shut down that business. But yeah, that was probably my first real arbitrage kind of selling opportunity that I found. But yeah, I grew up in Minnesota. So I did I did shoveling snow, I cut lawns, I did all sorts of things to kind of make money here and there. But

John Corcoran 3:11

yeah, I didn’t really grew up in an entrepreneurial family, or is this something that just,

Bruce Eckfeldt 3:16

I was kind of the black sheep, I’m the only non MD PhD in my family, all of all of my parents, my sibling is all medicine.

John Corcoran 3:24

She’s What a disappointment. You are. Yeah,

Bruce Eckfeldt 3:26

I was. I the the holiday dinner conversations were always a little off for me half the time because I couldn’t understand the words that we’re using.

John Corcoran 3:38

Right. Right. Right. Did you never feel any pressure as a kid to go down that route?

Bruce Eckfeldt 3:43

Um, I don’t know, if I felt pressure, I certainly felt like I was going down a slightly different route, right, in terms of, you know, everything from, you know, activities, interests, people, you know, obviously the things I was reading and doing and things like that. I mean, I was, there’s kind of this combination of pretty strong in sciences and math and things like that. And then I was an artist. So I did a lot of fine arts when I was young. So architecture was kind of this mash up between those two, which is why I ended up in that program. And it was great. I do, I think it was a great combination of my skills and interesting capability. But as you mentioned, I kind of got out architecture and got into digital product design. Then I got into software development, and I sold that company and got into kind of coaching and advising. And I like to say that I I still work with puzzles. It just went from bricks and windows and two by fours to digital bits and bytes to now it’s people and psychology and teams. So

John Corcoran 4:40

did you ever experience I wonder if you you this was an issue for you. As I went from being a lawyer, which was so easy for my family members to explain my parents like, Oh, he’s a lawyer, you know, to all of a sudden I don’t know he does something with the Internet. Did it was that a challenge at all? Oh, siblings that are all empty.

Bruce Eckfeldt 5:00

Yeah, I stopped trying at some point, right? Because the problem is, is I just started getting calls from folks that their, their computer wasn’t working.

John Corcoran 5:08

Right, exactly. They think you’re the local tech support. Yeah.

Bruce Eckfeldt 5:11

My classic answer was, well just restart it. And it’ll be fine. That does solve most

John Corcoran 5:15

problems when it comes to computers. Yeah. How did you end up going down the Lean agile route? Like, how did you figure out that that was kind of going to be the thing that you build a business around?

Bruce Eckfeldt 5:26

Yeah. So I, you know, I’m not I mean, I can write code. But if I’m writing code on a real project, something’s gone horribly, horribly wrong, right? Like, I’m really focused on kind of strategy, product strategy, market opportunities, like where do we have a need in the market? Where can we develop a solution? Like that is my thing. So really, software became just a tool for creating solutions. And I got very focused on how do we create software, particularly, how do we create software to meet a market need. And I had a really fortunate opportunity. When I left architecture, I started working with a company out of New York that got acquired by a Swedish company, and they were very well funded. And they had they were had 14 offices all over Europe. And so they had some big names. And they ended up hiring a gentleman named Ivana Jakob son as their Chief process officer. And he was one of the three what we call three amigos. So those that are, know the history of software development. The Three Amigos were three software developers that came up this idea of object oriented programming. So older sort of programming languages were very procedural, this was the first time they had this idea of object oriented programming. So I ended up actually having been able to work with him for almost six months, he came to New York, and I went to Sweden for quite a bit. And we started to really look at software development methodology in this kind of web age of, you know, web applications or distributed applications. And he got me really interested in software methods. And he was working with some people that were the very early founders of extreme programming, which was the kind of first iteration of an agile software development. So I had a chance to work with them, that very got me very into this whole highly iterative customer feedback driven, evolutionary kind of architecture in software development. And I just, I realized that that was like that was the way we were gonna build a better software products. So I got very involved in software methodology, which is we founded Cyrus based on being a lean, agile consulting company. So we ended up working with many, many companies on building out software teams using Lean agile,

John Corcoran 7:28

and I know a tiny bit about agile because we had a client that was in that world. And I, you know, I think agile doesn’t really predate Cyrus, by very much, you must have been really, really early in the early days of this concept.

Bruce Eckfeldt 7:42

Yeah, there was a there was a couple of people doing things in the late 90s. But it was really early 2000s, there was a whole agile manifesto and Snowbird where a bunch of people got together and they kind of they coined it, or they kind of brought together a whole bunch of ideas. And we put kind of this rubric of agile on it. And then lean came out scrum came out, there’s kind of a, an amalgam of things, but there were all software development methodologies that were very customer feedback driven, short iterations, customer feedback driven. And the software. Code itself was something that was fundamentally designed to be changed and iterated on very, very quickly. So there was a series of testing frameworks and the ways you write code and what we call object oriented or pattern driven code development that allowed that to happen. And so that was kind of the birth of agile and nice, obviously, it’s grown significantly since then. And it’s kind of the the way that most companies developed software at this point. But yeah, the beginning it was, we were extreme programming. So the drug was is like, you know, we get on parachutes jump off planes with laptops. Right. And that, you know, it was it was new and kind of crazy in the beginning, but it ended up becoming a very important mainstream way of developing software.

John Corcoran 8:59

Okay, so I have to know how you were an Inc 5000 Business five years in a row, especially in consulting. I mean, that’s understandable, like in software or something like that. But in the consulting world, that is absolutely nuts. I mean, I don’t know the exact numbers, but I know now to be an inc 5000 business yet, at least today, it is to be over 2 million a year in revenue. And I think something like 80% growth, which I just found out, it’s over a three year period, not a one year period. But nevertheless, I mean, you must have gone like from two to 20 million in five years or two to 200 million. I don’t know what the number is. Yeah. So

Bruce Eckfeldt 9:33

it was, you know, some of this is catching, catching it just at the right size when you first qualify like being big enough to first qualify, and then you know, it’s a game at denominator, right, like so as long as your denominator is low enough in your numerator, like you can divide that you know, a lot. Yeah, we just happened to hit at the right time. And we grew very consistently for five years in a row. So we kept making the list. And like it was it was significant growth, right. I mean, especially as services company, it’s about people. And so you’re adding a lot of people, you know, but a lot of it is, you know, just being super consistent in your growth process. So that you can, you know, have consistent results year over year, I think a lot of people end up coming off the list after a year or two, because they have a bad year. Right? They just they have a down year, so you don’t make the list. And then they come back on a couple of years later. You know, we were fortunate, or they, you know, it was, I think we were smart and a lot of ways, but also we were kind of the right place at the right time. So

John Corcoran 10:26

other than it like kind of, other than it being kind of like, outside acknowledgement that you’re doing something right. What did it do for you? Why, you know, I mean, now you help other businesses, so I guess it gives you external credibility, because people say, Oh, he’s an Inc 5000. CEO. But why do people want to hit that list?

Bruce Eckfeldt 10:46

Well, I mean, I guess in terms of things I learned about it, I actually, I wrote an article on this somewhere, it’s back on ink, you know, in kind of the archive somewhere. But, you know, for me, it was like, I never planned on being an entrepreneur, right, it was kind of an accidental, you know, we had an opportunity to work on a project, we put an LLC together to do it, that led to another project that meant to hired some people. So for me, it was kind of this strange validation that, oh, we’re actually a real business. And I’m actually an entrepreneur. So on one hand, it was it was, I think, confidence building for me are kind of validating for me to realize, oh, I need to think of myself this way. And so what does that change in terms of my mindset? And what I do? The other thing that happened is I went through a very extreme kind of impostor syndrome moment, right? Where it was like, I’m at this conference, looking around all these people who are creating all these businesses. I’m like, What am I doing here? Right? Like, I’m not I don’t have